Bid to increase number of dentists providing care to medical card patients as fees rise

Fees paid to dentists for exams and fillings for medical cardholders are increased – and the reintroduction of cleaning has been approved.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly today said he had approved new measures to provide expanded dental care to medical cardholders under the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS).

The plan provides free dental care to medical card holders aged 16 and over. These services are provided by independent dental practitioners who have a contract with the HSE.

He also confirmed his commitment to review the scheme to ensure its future viability.

“I have committed to complete a comprehensive review of DTSS to align the program with the National Oral Health Policy.

“While awaiting this review, my immediate priority has been to resolve the problems that patients with medical cards face in accessing treatment.

“In this regard, I have given my approval for increases in fees payable to contract dentists for a number of items, including examinations and fillings, and have also approved the reintroduction of cleaning (scaling and polishing) for patients with medical card.

“These proposals are designed to address not only service-related issues for medical card patients, but also concerns expressed by dentists about the viability of DTSS.”

The reintroduction of tartar and polish is in line with the preventive philosophy of the national oral health policy.

It is also a first step in aligning the DTSS more closely with the other state scheme, the Dental Treatment Benefits Scheme (the PRSI scheme), in which Scale and Polish is provided.

“Hopefully as a result of these changes, we will see an increase in the number of dentists providing treatment to patients with medical cards,” Donnelly said.

The Irish Dental Association previously said reimbursement levels for dentists had been reduced following the 2008 financial crisis and treatments available to medical cardholders had been suspended or only available on an emergency basis.

His figures showed that there is currently only one dentist for every 2,000 medical card patients and that in some parts of the country there is only one dentist covering a city or an entire region.

Between 2015 and 2020, there was a 31% drop in dentists holding DTSS contracts.

Giving its reaction tonight, the Irish Dental Association said that while any investment in the program was long overdue, “increasing charges and expanding treatments will do little to address the fundamental problems that have forced dentists to withdraw en masse from the program,” according to Dr. Will Rymer, Chairman of the Association’s General Practitioners’ Committee.

“Ultimately, a new model must move away from a system that allows the state to impose restrictions on the treatments that can be provided to patients; even with the changes announced today, these restrictions on treatments are outdated and unacceptable.

“The current regime is outdated and inadequate. By increasing the number of treatments available in line with the Minister’s proposal, the government is unknowingly placing an additional burden on an ever-shrinking pool of exhausted practitioners and will only serve to clog more dental practices that remain Modernizing, not changing, the dental plan for medical card patients is what is needed to ensure that 1.5 million adults receive adequate treatment for their needs in oral care.

IDA Director General Mr Fintan Hourihan said that “A new program will only be successful if it attracts sufficient numbers of dentists as a professionally appropriate and economically viable alternative, and, above all, if it he is trusted by the patients he is supposed to serve.

“We urgently need a new scheme for a modern Ireland which is properly funded and allows dentists the clinical autonomy to treat medical card patients as they would private patients. The Association Irish Dental is calling on the Department of Health to enter into talks to replace the DTSS scheme as a matter of priority.”

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